July 4, 1999By Steve Miller
Where is Las Vegas? What's in a name?
The postmark said "Las Vegas" and the new "Las Vegas" resident was proud of his new "city" and wanted to vote for his new Mayor. Sadly when the citizen called the Clark County Election Department to find out where he was supposed to go to vote, he was informed that he was not a citizen of "Las Vegas" after all! The citizen was shocked to be told that he was now a resident of Unincorporated Clark County and was not entitled to participate in the "city" election because his new home is located in the Las Vegas Valley, but outside of "Las Vegas!"
This confusing scenario is repeated every municipal election. As any local resident who has lived in our valley more than one year knows, Las Vegas begins at Sahara Ave. and ends at Owens Ave. Meanwhile every hotel located on the Unincorporated Clark County Strip proudly -- but falsely -- advertises that they are located in "Las Vegas." Meanwhile, those Strip located businesses that gleefully misuse our city's good name barely contribute to their namesake's upkeep. Most of their property, room, sales, and gaming taxes are devoured by the governments of Clark County, the Convention and Visitors Authority, and the state of Nevada, and little filters back into the town that bears the name they prize.
The difference between the city and county is like night and day. As you drive north past the Sahara Hotel and into the city it looks as though you are entering Beirut! Is this the way to treat your namesake?
I believe that the time is at hand for those who have been vastly benefiting from the plagiarism of out city's good name to step up to the plate and put their money where their mouths are. It is time that the moguls on the Clark County Strip either begin to truthfully advertise "Visit CLARK COUNTY - Open 24 Hours a Day," or take responsibility for the seedy image of the real city they are faithlessly marketing as their address.
During the early years of Las Vegas, not so long ago, the downtown was the hub of activity. "Glitter Gulch" as it was affectionately known, hosted parades, shopping, theaters, a nationally televised New Year's Eve, and name entertainment including Kenny Rogers, Wayne Newton and Frank Sinatra. The hotels and casinos were well kept and clean. It was also acknowledged that for the casinos to be successful, little or no distraction could exist outside to draw gamblers away from gambling. Now a thundering light show entices gamblers away from the tables every half-hour each evening. This has proven to be economically counter productive -- but continues anyway.
A number of Hollywood movies used our "Casino Center " or Fremont Street as the icon for Las Vegas based motion pictures including Casino, Honey I blew up the kid, and others. All of this exposure originally helped to put the City of Las Vegas on the map. Old Fremont St. footage is still being used in 1999 produced TV and movies as the familiar identifier for Las Vegas, most recently for the production of the High Rollers documentary on the Discovery Channel, and a news segment shown this year on NBC. Otherwise, TV and moviemakers have unilaterally shied away from filming the new "Fremont Street Experience" as LV's identifier because the mall lacks the familiar images once associated with our city. Our town's image has shifted south to Strip locales.
As a former cinematographer for Columbia Pictures Industrial Film Division, I filmed numerous scenes on Fremont St. before the canopy was installed. I can attest to the fact that the present visual image of our downtown is not recognizable as even being located in Las Vegas. The other reason that our downtown is no longer being used in TV and movies is that the moniker "Experience" sounds like a cliché out of the 60's or 70's. "Casino Center" was a much more appropriate title because it was timeless, simple, and descriptive, not trendy like the word "Experience."
Unfortunately, during the Jan Jones administration, the center of local activity moved five miles south from the "Experience" to the intersection of Spring Mountain Rd. and Las Vegas Boulevard South. The "Experience" casino mall, originally conceived by Steve Wynn and Jones, like so many other such projects including the Golden Nugget, became boring to them and they soon moved on. This may have occurred because our former Mayor became a stockholder in hotels located in Clark County outside the City of Las Vegas (Circus Circus and Mirage) during 1995 and her loyalties seemed to follow.
The first downtown activity to go south was our nationally televised New Year's Eve on Fremont St. seen worldwide. With the advent of the FSE canopy, photography became almost impossible and the once familiar setting became unrecognizable. Soon thereafter, the Golden Nugget canceled its' big name entertainment policy. Other clubs along Fremont St. soon fell into a state of disrepair and remain today as a rag tag assortment "experiencing" yearly declining room occupancy and gaming revenues to prove my point.
While this happened the Clark County casinos invested heavily outside Nevada and continued to look the other way when it came to the real Las Vegas. The city government under Jan Jones planted hundreds of palm trees along Las Vegas streets to try to hide the despair, but she sat back without emotion when pioneer family's businesses went broke including the McCormick's Green Shack restaurant, or were taken by eminent domain and given to the casinos like what happened to Carol Pappas' shopping center.
Meanwhile Jones shamelessly promoted competitive gaming in Connecticut and Detroit where casinos she held stock in were proposing billion dollar projects that will eventually take even more of our downtown's meager market share. "The fiddler played while Rome burned!"
Now, Mayor Oscar Goodman enters office saddled with his predecessor's boondoggles including the "Experience;" her highest legacy. It is up to Mayor Goodman to refocus the view of the tycoons on the Clark County Strip to the despair located just a few miles north of their gold mines in the city who's name they plagiarize. Perhaps, with this new -- but belated -- attention, the real Las Vegas can again emerge from the darkness it self-created and enjoy an encore as the center of activity in this famous valley.
Meanwhile its' time to come to the realization that there is no "Las Vegas" at the intersection of Spring Mountain Road and Las Vegas Boulevard South.
Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. Visit his website at: http://www.stevemiller4lasvegas.com